In an interview with the New York Times not too long ago, Melinda Gates discussed time poverty in women, who do most of the unpaid but essential work in the world such as child care and cleaning. Unpaid work prevents the worker from earning money while they are engaged in this work; neither can they attend school to better themselves. Unpaid workers have fewer choices and a lower standard of living than those with discretionary income. This involves at least some level of poverty, and this is unjust.
Although the gender inequality around time poverty is wrong (women work twice as long each day on unpaid work than men do), the correction of it seems elusive. It has been suggested that women could be given cellphones, contraceptives, and role-modeling to help lift them away from unpaid work and the life that that entails. On the other hand, much of this unpaid work is personal in nature – cleaning one’s own dwelling, cooking one’s own food, and so forth. These are activities we all must do for ourselves, so I wonder how a monetary value could be assigned to them. Should we really get paid for washing our own clothes?
I also wonder how it is that some work is so valuable that the worker gets millions for it. In my observation, most of these workers are people who make absolutely no contribution to anyone’s welfare, but rather are entertainers, or 1% level executives who actually cause much of the suffering and injustice in the world. Child care, though, is just about the single most important thing anyone can do, and it is mostly unpaid, as well as untrained, labor. Clearly, our priorities and values are skewed. Do we really need football players, or another rock band? But farmers, who are often underpaid, are necessary, because without them, what would we eat?
There is another type of time poverty – the poverty of personal time working people have. Businesses demand a great deal of their employees, often forcing them to do two or three jobs on the same salary. Many people work overtime, leaving them little time to spend with friends or family, and certainly too little time just for themselves. This is a terrible time poverty that saps the spiritual strength of many. When one spends the majority of time in a meaningless job that is done only for money, it leaves a terrible hollow that money just can’t fill. These working conditions are common for both poor and better-paid workers, but of course the working poor suffer even more, as they don’t have enough money, and suffer materially as well as spiritually. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone worked shorter days so that everyone had personal time and everyone was employed? Wouldn’t a six-hour day be nice?
I ask, however, why should any of us get paid at all? Couldn’t we simply share? Poverty of both time and money would be greatly relieved if we had something like a basic universal income. Can you imagine the richness of a society where everyone contributes? Can you imagine the freedom of living without the insecurity of wage dependence? Something new needs to be done to prevent the suffering of poverty, which is increasing in this country, and elsewhere. A new economy is necessary, but likely not forthcoming in the near future, even though other countries provide a shining example of how we could live if we didn’t have to worry about paying for schooling or retirement or healthcare. In the meantime, we must do all we can to treat each other justly and with dignity, regardless of job title and income. We can ignore the lure of the consumer society and live outside its bounds as best we can. My dream is that someday we can follow the lead of more civilized countries, and have a more just society where all are cared for and make a contribution.
Copyright © 2016 Teresa Chupp. All rights reserved.